Histories and Legacies

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.

 

13 Responses to “Histories and Legacies”

  1. Mark Fuller Says:

    You really should think about pioneering Cosplay at Academic Conferences…..the possibilities are endless……

  2. Did Sandy Lieberson talk about “Performance”?

  3. Yes — mainly his surprise that you could make a film with Mick Jagger in 68-69 and NOT have it be a huge hit. “I hate cult movies, I want my movies to be successful WHEN THEY COME OUT!”

  4. Your filmmaking and criticism should be counted as “academic research”. What is the matter with your “institution”?

  5. We’re allowed to list such things as research, but at the same time I’ve been told they don’t really “count” as they’re not in the form of peer-reviewed papers. But, since I’m a mere teaching fellow, it’s possible I don’t have to do any research, and the institution doesn’t have to support my research at all, whatever it is. I’m trying, rather belatedly, to find out the truth…

  6. I remember Two Gentlemen Sharing on the cover of Films & filming in 1969; the entire cover given over to a still of Robin Phillips kissing a reluctant Hal Frederick. Quite an (implied) shift of emphasis. I know I saw the film but can’t remember much about it. Oddly.

  7. Apparently it was never even released in the UK. It sounds fascinating, both from a race and a sex viewpoint, and MAYBE from a cinematic one. Jamaican screenwriter Evan Jones, who worked extensively for Losey, adapted it.

  8. That’s not really you, is it? I expected someone more closely resembling an effete intellectual in a kilt. #Disappointment

  9. I’m the one on the left, if that helps.

  10. I saw 2GS on a late night cable channel in the 1980s, in the US. Surreal hardly covers it.

  11. I can’t wait! Seemingly the only copy available on the academic black market is an off-air recording from a US cable channel specialising in westerns.

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